building good citizen service/customer service

building good citizen service/customer service


At the Sunlight Foundation Transparency camp, on,, and elsewhere, I've heard from a lot of Federal tech people
who are ready to better serve the public.

Here's what I feel is a consensus, that what's needed is technology that:

  • people want to use
  • people will use
  • is simple
  • involves honest dialog
  • changes in response to that dialog

(The last encourages a "culture of participation" and the "consent of the

Here're some specifics from that consensus:

Look at things from the citizen's perspective (why is it needed? does the
citizen want it? does it help the citizen more easily conduct their
business with government (top task) and/or interact with government in
ways they want to? will they use it?) Make it simple for the public to
use. Don't overcomplicate it. Simple interface. No governmentese

There is a tendency to overcomplicate IT projects in the federal
government. Rapid application development needs to be the
norm….government should begin to think in terms of WEEKS, not MONTHS AND
YEARS Government should look at open source Government should look at free
(or almost free) products instead of the MILLIONS currently spending

Now, for your amusement, replace "citizen" with "citizen/customer" and
"government" for "government/company". The deal is that government
provides a collection of services, sometimes goods, to citizens; companies
provides a collection of services or goods to customers. It's not quite
the same, since government often has a monopoly in certain areas, is
tax-supported, and in a democracy, must be transparent in its operations.

In this context, however, governmental or private groups provides services
and should do that well. Web technology can provide service that:

  • people want to use
  • people will use
  • is simple
  • involves honest dialog
  • changes in response to that dialog

Maybe this is something that should be obvious, but the big challenge will be overcoming the bureaucratic inertia of any organization. People are catching
the "new media" thing, scrambling in a lot of cases, and that might help.

Ironically, those service principles are how craigslist works, phrased
differently. (I should listen to myself, maybe once in a while.) Maybe
when someone talks about "a craigslist for (whatever)", that's what they



Jeffrey Levy

Dead on target, Craig. Well put!
That said, I think at least part of the "overcomplicating" problem is the need to serve everyone equally. That's not an issue private companies face.

Eduardo Yeh

Would you have an example of such online services you described above? what are your favorite existing gov online services to citizens? (if any, of course :)

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